Orders, Parishes Still Face Lawsuits

By Beth Miller
The News Journal
October 23, 2009

The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington's decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this week stopped more than 100 child sexual abuse cases from advancing in the court system, but it has not stopped the progress of the cases against Catholic parishes and religious orders.

The Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, who operate Salesianum School, have no plans to file for bankruptcy according to their attorney Mark Reardon, and a Superior Court judge this week told attorneys to prepare for trial in James Sheehan's child sexual abuse case against the order.

Sheehan's case was among those stayed by the diocese's bankruptcy filing Sunday night. But Superior Court Judge Calvin L. Scott Jr. told attorneys in a pretrial conference Wednesday that Sheehan's case against the Oblates, which seeks damages for abuse by the late Rev. Francis L. Norris in 1962, will begin Nov. 16 as scheduled.

Sheehan, who is gravely ill with congestive heart failure, according to his attorney Thomas S. Neuberger, was in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington when the first hearing on the diocese's filing was held Wednesday. On Nov. 2, Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Sontchi will hear Sheehan's plea to allow his case against the diocese to move forward in state court, too, because of his ill health.

That decision will not affect his case against the Oblates.

"None of the religious order clients I represent have bankruptcy in their conversation now," Reardon said.

Sheehan is suing the Oblates for an assault he says occurred when he was a 14-year-old sophomore at Salesianum in 1962. He later was an All-State football player, teacher and football coach at Sallies.

Reardon said the Oblates want to honor Sheehan's wishes to go to trial and will not stop the process.

"Mr. Sheehan is a graduate of Salesianum, he came back to teach there and he was a football coach," Reardon said. "He sent his sons to Salesianum. We consider him part of the Salesianum community.

"If Mr. Sheehan believes in his heart that his peace and his healing are best found by taking his claims to a jury, then we are not going to stand in the way."

Contact Beth Miller at 324-2784 or


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